If Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt feel a responsibility to safeguard voting rights, Kansans wouldn’t know it from their comments Monday related to the state’s 8-month-old requirement of proof of citizenship to register to vote.
The voter registrations of nearly 14,000 Kansans, including more than 2,400 in Sedgwick County, are “in suspense” because they haven’t provided the necessary birth certificates, passports or other documents – or they have, to the driver’s license office where they registered, and the papers just haven’t been passed along to election officials. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had promised lawmakers that the document sharing would be seamless.
When Brownback was asked Monday about the problem, he acknowledged an interest in the voting booth being “open for people” but said, according to the Lawrence Journal-World: “It’s in the secretary of state’s purview.” He also said: “We’ll watch and review the process as it’s coming forward, but there is a constitutional officer that’s in charge of that.”
In fact, if documents submitted to the driver’s license offices aren’t making it to local election officials in a timely manner or at all – because of problems related to a delayed Kansas Department of Revenue computer upgrade or otherwise – that makes the systemic suspension of voting rights Brownback’s problem as well as Kobach’s.
Also Monday, Schmidt said his office was evaluating whether Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law is enforceable in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar Arizona law. The court ruled 7-2 that the 1993 federal “motor-voter” law requires states to “accept and use” the federal voter registration form, which only asks that people swear they are U.S. citizens.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, had heard nothing from Schmidt since requesting a formal opinion about Kansas’ law weeks ago. After his speech Monday to the Rotary Club of Wichita, Schmidt said he hadn’t decided whether to issue such an opinion. “We are right now focused on the legal questions surrounding that decision and how it may or may not apply to existing Kansas law,” he said. And asked about Kobach’s bizarre idea to limit some voters to participating only in presidential and congressional elections, Schmidt said: “I’ll leave it to the policymakers to decide whether that’s the desired response to the Supreme Court decision.”
The remarks by Brownback and Schmidt came a day before the 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. As then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson argued in 1957, advocating for the law he would later proudly sign as president, “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”
That basic right is in limbo for nearly 14,000 Kansans. The state’s CEO and top cop should have a problem with that.